We need an anti communism officer

Not useful, just idiots

When my uncle was a young boy in Hungary in the late 1940’s his dad went to work one day and came home two years later. He had been scooped off the street and sent to a Soviet labour camp. He was just one of the millions to have their lives blighted by communism.

This miserable ideology has slaughtered millions and immiserated millions more. It is an ideology of conflict as laid out in the first line of the first chapter of its founding manifesto. It strips people of their individuality and brands them as members of a class. From this it views people as incapable of individual human action but only of acting as their class nature dictates, any that don’t are summarily diagnosed with “false consciousness”. This allows communism to build a supposedly scientific theory of history which usefully predicts, with “historical inevitability”, communism’s eventual victory. When this is shown to be the rubbish it clearly is communism becomes an ideology of violence. It aims to build a ‘new man’ free from the egoism engendered by capitalism. When it becomes apparent that egoism is inherent in human nature rather than being a peculiar property of capitalism, communism tries to force it out of them in the gulag or the killing field.

This perverse communist thinking led to the deaths, at one estimate, of 94 million human beings in the twentieth century. And yet, while student representatives claim to be alive to fascism on campus, they do nothing to combat campus communism.

And we ought to be combating it. Mark Bergfeld, a decent shout to be next NUS president, is a member of the Marxist Socialist Workers Party, a small group which even in coalition with other parties managed just 12,275 votes at the last general election. Clare Solomon, gaffe prone ULU president, was a member of the SWP but was expelled for ‘factionalism’, the sort of obscurity that could only be a crime on the far left.

But we need to be wary of our administrators too. The grand old man of communist history and president of Birkbeck College, Eric Hobsbawm, recently released a book on the history of Marxism. He writes that “the most difficult part of Marx’s legacy for his successors [is that] all actual attempts to realise socialism along Marxian lines so far have found themselves strengthening an independent state apparatus”. “Strengthening an independent state apparatus” might seem a weirdly anodyne way of describing a system which killed over 90 million people but then, when it was once put to Hobsbawm that “What that comes down to is saying that had the radiant tomorrow actually been created, the loss of fifteen, twenty million people might have been justified?”, Hobsbawm unhesitatingly replied “Yes”

The standard riposte is that ‘Marx is no more responsible for the crimes committed in his name than Jesus was responsible for the crimes committed in his’, indeed, Ms Solomon said something similar on her blog until recently. This is dishonest. The division, conflict and pseudo scientific history come from Marx, the violence comes from Lenin and the murderous New Man theory comes from Trotsky, all heroes to communists and the SWP.

One of the posts currently up for election at Professor Hobsbawm’s college is Anti Racism and Anti fascism. Rightly, we wouldn’t let apologists and supporters of fascism to go unchallenged on campus and we must challenge the apologists and supporters of communism also. Surely it’s time for an Anti communism officer on campus?

London Student, 14/03/2011

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Apathy is perpetuated by those who prey on it

Nobody is listening

When Clare Solomon was elected ULU President in March 2010 the website counterfire.org proclaimed it a “Mandate for resistance” and told us that Ms Solomon planned “to use her victory as a springboard for a mass anti-cuts campaign”

However the figures told a different story to one of ‘mandates’ and ‘mass’. The University of London Union represents over 120,000 students and fewer than 750 of them voted for Ms Solomon. That’s less than 0.6% of those eligible to vote.

This pitiful result wasn’t a one off. In its celebratory missive counterfire identified four other recently elected members of a left wing “awkward squad”; Michael Chessum at UCL (540 votes out of about 20,000 UCLU members, or 3% of eligible voters), Louis Hartnoll at UAL (396 votes out of about 28,000 students, or 1%), Ashok Kumar at LSE (805 votes out of 9,900, or a relatively respectable 8% of eligible voters) and James Haywood at Goldsmiths (figures not available despite requests). These are the people who have the gall to question the democratic mandate of the coalition government (17.5 million votes from an electorate of 46 million, or 38%).

The consequence of student apathy towards these elections is that their representatives, elected by a bare handful of them, do not actually represent their views. A London Student poll, for example, found that two thirds of students opposed violent protest but the ‘awkward squad’ simply ignored this view. Chessum and Kumar signed a declaration supporting the Millbank rioters. Solomon refused to condemn them. Haywood, arrested at the scene, said “The occupation of Tory HQ was completely justified” Should we be surprised that people elected by a minority of students reflect a minority opinion?

But why is it that only left wing extremists seek to skip into the void left by apathy? They devote a disproportionate amount of time and effort to these campaigns as they are the only elections they have any chance of ever winning. At the last general election parties to the left of Labour got less than 70,000 votes, not enough to fill Wembley Stadium. The British electorate is not interested in anything as left wing as what the ‘awkward squad’ and their like have to offer. Neither are students.

Sadly the presence of the ‘awkward squad’ encourages student apathy. Lots of students get motivated about an issue like tuition fees that directly effects them but they start to turn off when the ‘awkward squad’ types start prattling on about overthrowing capitalism. As the left wing journalist Nick Cohen wrote recently, “The pattern of British protest is set. Good causes draw hundreds of thousands of people into left-wing politics. After a brief period of exhilaration, they find themselves harangued by pinched-faced, spit-flecked demagogues who insist they must embrace violence and hate. They realise that the far-left is not interested in the issue at hand but only wants to entice new blood into its various cults so it can exploit their energies and empty their bank accounts. Disgusted and demoralised, they drift away”

So we end up in a downward spiral; minority interest, ‘awkward squad’ leaders furthering their own agendas put people off participating which makes it easier for them to get elected and push their agendas. It’s a disappointing prospect, but most students wont care.

London Student, 28/02/2011

The end of the affair, but it was a fool’s love from the start

Breaking up is hard to do

On January 5th the Independent reported that the Liberal Democrats had hit an all time low in the polls of just 11%. Part of this is down to students falling out of love with the Lib Dems, just 15% continue to support them according to YouGov in November. As recently as last May this figure was 45% and ‘I agree with Nick’ was a slogan popular on campuses nationwide. Where did the love go?

Students fell in love with the Liberal Democrats over Iraq and stayed in love over the unaffordable promise that taxpayers continue to pay 60% of the cost of 50% of all British kids studying for three years. It was never a relationship with stable foundations.

For all the sound and fury at the time Iraq receded as an issue. This left the unaffordable promise.

The promise had been made in more carefree days when no one had to worry about how it would be paid for, the Liberal Democrats were never going to get elected so who cared? Not since Sonny serenaded Cher had lovers been so blasé about the bills.

Then the unthinkable happened. The Lib Dems actually did end up in government. Curiously, many of those who voted Lib Dem were upset at this outcome; it seemed they had voted Lib Dem to bring about a Labour government.

Faced with actual power the Lib Dems were forced to dump the unaffordable promise on fees and as the old folk song went the hottest love was the soonest cold. The sweet nothings of May had been replaced by angry chants of “Nick Clegg, shame on you, shame on you for turning blue”

But like any break up the blame isn’t all on one side. Students who voted for the Lib Dems on the strength of their pledge on tuition fees need to ask themselves a question; why was it that the only party willing to sign it was the party that had no expectation of actually being asked to deliver on it?

Both Labour and the Conservatives went into the last election with the possibility of forming a government. Both made some pretty wild pledges but even they ran a mile from the tuition fee pledge. The Lib Dems probably knew they couldn’t keep it but didn’t think they’d have to so persisted in the fantasy that the taxpayers pockets were bottomless. It’s often asked whether students would have voted Lib Dem if they hadn’t made their tuition fee promise. An equally pertinent question is would the Lib Dems had made the promise in the first place if they’d thought they’d have to honour it?

But surely that fact that no party with a realistic proposition of power was willing to make this promise should have set a few alarm bells ringing among the student leadership? Surely they should have asked why this was? They are clever people, that is why they believe the taxpayer should to continue fund their education. But they fell for a fantasy. If they chose Lib Dem fantasyland over the real world then shouldn’t they take a look at themselves and take some responsibility?

The death of the Liberal Democrats may well be the consequence of this most acrimonious break up since The Smiths. But so what? The Lib Dems have always offered an alternative, but not an alternative to the policies of Labour and the Conservative,s but an alternative to grim, real world politics where money doesn’t grow on trees. What’s left of the Lib Dems is moving on. The student leadership should too.

Printed in London Student, 17/01/11

ULU President an embarrassment on Newsnight

On the far right

On November 10th over 50,000 students protested against the proposals of the Browne Review. Sadly it was hijacked and overshadowed by the actions of a few thousand hardcore trouble makers and over excited gawpers who broke into the building that houses Conservative party HQ and trashed just about every other office in the building. One rioter dropped a fire extinguisher from the roof narrowly missing Police on the ground.

Students turning into Newsnight that night to see ULU president Clare Solomon condemn this disgraceful and utterly counterproductive behaviour will have been disappointed. In a performance which was, by turns, embarrassing for her and dismaying for students seeking serious representation, she came across as a cross between La Pasionara and Michael Howard.

Jeremy Paxman asked Solomon five times “How does breaking into the building advance the cause of free education?” and didn’t get an answer, the final time, indeed, she chided him for “asking the wrong questions”. By the fifth time Solomon had begun asking her own questions, replying to Paxman’s question with “Why did I feel it necessary to be on the demonstration in the first place?”

The third time of asking prompted the following exchange

Solomon – “Well I didn’t break into the building and I don’t think anybody broke into the building, that is not…”

Paxman – “You were in the building weren’t you?”

Solomon – “I was in the building”

Solomon further claimed that the students had “voted unanimously against fees and against cuts”. When? Which vote is she referring to? I certainly haven’t been asked to vote on it.

She declared herself for “Free education all the way”. Bearing in mind that 37 year old Clare Solomon claimed on Newsnight to have been a student for four years but also claims on her ULU website to have “7 years experience in various union positions” it would seem there is no limit to the amount of taxpayers cash she feels entitled to.

As if this amateurish bumbling and naked self interest was not bad enough Solomon dismissed the violence which saw 14 people injured as “a few smashed windows”. She warned “This is just the beginning” and finished by saying “If the government go through with these cuts we are going to see what we’ve seen in Greece…and I fully support it.”

In May the protests, which Clare Solomon claims to “fully support”, claimed the lives of Paraskeui Zoulia, Aggeliki Papathanasopoulou, and Epameinondas Tsakalis, three bank workers burned to death when protestors set fire to their bank.

Nobel peace prize winning democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi, imprisoned for 15 of the last 21 years, recently called for peaceful protest in opposition to the brutal Burmese dictatorship. Ms Solomon, professional activist elected to ULU presidency with just 748 votes, defends violence against a democratic government.

(Printed in London Student, 22/11/10)

The Great Debate – University of London colleges would benefit from privatisation

The argument against privatized universities usually runs as follows; education is a right and, as such, should be paid for by the taxpayer.

Whether education is a ‘right’ is a question worthy of a discussion in itself. The Bill of Rights of 1689 lists, among other rights, freedom of speech and freedom from royal interference in Parliamentary elections. More succinctly the Declaration of Independence of the United States listed just three rights in 1776, those to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”.

Since then we’ve had a couple of centuries of capitalism, the greatest method of increasing living standards ever devised by humanity. As our ability to produce goods and services has grown, thanks to capitalism, ‘rights’ of access to these goods and services have proliferated.

But even if education is a right it still does not automatically follow that this means it should be provided by the state and paid for by the taxpayer.

Few would disagree that people have a right to food and clothing yet only the most lunatic left wingers would argue that these should be provided by the state. Communist China tried just this with clothing and 1 billion people got identical jim jams.

The clamour for the state (read taxpayers) to provide the food and clothing we each have a right to is dulled because the free market private sector does a very good job of providing them. Between 1982 and 2005, according to the Office of National Statistics, the percentage of income spent by the average family on food fell from 21% to 16% while the cost of clothes fell by 2.6% per year between 1998 and 2008. Indeed, some now argue the free market does too good a job. The problem facing the less well off in the UK is not malnutrition but obesity.

So we see that free markets in the private sector lead to lower prices and greater variety. But, for some mysterious reason, it is argued that higher education will be different, that price will rise and people will not be able to afford the education they have a right to.

This equity argument for taxpayer funding falls apart almost immediately. Under the current state system a child of professional parents has a 72% chance of going to university. A child of unskilled parents has just a 13% chance. Given that graduates will earn, on average, more than non graduates over their working lives the taxpayer funding of universities is simply a subsidy for the children of the well off to earn even more. Increasing private provision, making these kids pay more for their own education, would leave more resources free for the children of the less well off.

The comparative lack of access to higher education for children of the less well off is caused by factors, such as lack of access to good quality secondary education, which are already in place before they start filling in the UCAS form. There is no reason to think that this existing problem will be exacerbated by private university education. Indeed, looking at how private markets work in providing other rights like food and clothing and how higher education works in the US, with it web of scholarships and bursaries, that it may free up more resources to help the less well off. However, we shouldn’t be surprised if the kids of the middle class continue to defend their subsidy and call it social justice.

(Printed in London Student, 08/11/10)

The economics of the London Living Wage just don’t add up

The first thing to note about the London Living Wage is that it is nothing of the sort. The website of Citizens UK says the Living Wage is intended to enable workers to “earn enough to provide their family with the essentials of life”.

But defining “the essentials of life” is rather tricky. Once upon a time it meant food, clothing and shelter. The free markets for food and clothing work quite well in providing these essentials (the housing market with its substantial government interference works noticeably less well). Between 1982 and 2005, according to the Office of National Statistics Family Spending Report, the average family’s spending on food fell from 21% of family spending to 16%. The cost of clothes fell by 2.6% per year between 1998 and 2008. Indeed, as far back as 1959 Barbara Castle told the Labour Party conference that “the poverty and unemployment which we came into existence to fight have been largely conquered”

So if the “essentials of life” are being readily provided ever more cheaply why the Living Wage campaign?

Quite simply “the essentials of life” were redefined. Poverty was no longer an absolute state threatening continued life but a state of wealth compared to others. Thus, in 1999 the Child Poverty Action Group said that the lack of a video recorder was a sign of poverty. In 2006 a US government report found that among officially ‘poor’ Americans 97% owned a colour TV, 62% have cable or satellite and 89% own microwaves. The Living Wage is really just a Higher Wage.

If the Living Wage is not, in fact, going to protect workers from imminent death what will its effects be?

There are few more basic propositions in economics than that an increase in the price of something leads to a fall in the amount of that something people demand. So it is with labour. If a government mandated rise in wages makes hiring workers more expensive companies will hire less of them.

Sadly analysis of the correctness of this theory in practice indicates the truth in the old joke that if you laid all the world’s economists end to end you wouldn’t reach a conclusion. Studies of the effects on employment of introduction or raises in minimum wages either tell you it has reduced employment (Machin, Manning and Rahman, 2003 and Stewart and Swaffield, 2006) or that it hasn’t (Metcalf, 2007).

Much of the doubt stems from the fact that minimum wages are typically set at around the market wage anyway. Despite casting doubt on the point of a minimum wage in the first place, this fact also raises another question; what happens if it rises too far? Here there is consensus; if the minimum wage rises too far employment will fall. Those in work will benefit at the expense of those out of it.

And this is where the Living Wage (sic) could be dangerous. At £7.85 per hour it is £2 higher than the national minimum wage and has increased 33% in the last five years. Coming at a time when university budgets face severe cuts the higher wage will become less affordable for employers. This will lead to less cleaning and other services being provided around campus and fewer jobs. Or it could mean a rise in your tuition fees.

The Living Wage Campaign is simply a higher minimum wage campaign and its current name is dishonest and emotive nonsense. When set at a rate around the market level its effects on employment are small but it is also pointless. But when it rises by a third in five years and universities have less money, something will have to give.

Nigel Farage’s attack was justified

Considering he is the leader of a party which defines Britishness, in part, as “courtesy/politness/manners”, the recent outburst of UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage in the European Parliament was extraordinary.

Little of interest usually happens in the European Parliament but Farage’s remarks were widely reported. Addressing the newly appointed President of the European Council, Herman van Rompuy, Farage said “I don’t want to be rude, but you know, really, you have the charisma of a damp rag and the appearance of a low grade bank clerk”. Farage wasn’t finished. “The question that I want to ask”, he continued, “and that we are all going to ask is: who are you? I had never heard of you; nobody in Europe had ever heard of you. I would like to ask you, Mr President: who voted for you? And what mechanism – I know democracy is not popular with you lot – what mechanism do the peoples of Europe have to remove you? Is this European democracy? Sir, you have no legitimacy in this job at all, and I can say with confidence that I can speak on behalf of the majority of the British people in saying: we do not know you, we do not want you, and the sooner you are put out to grass, the better.” He rounded off by branding Belgium, where van Rompuy comes from, “pretty much a non-country”.

There were calls for Farage’s suspension as an MEP, some even branded him “racist”. But there was actually more truth than racism in Farage’s remarks.

Janet Street Porter branded Farage a “racist” on Question Time the following day for his “non country” remark. As usual, she was talking rubbish. How, after all, is it possible to be racist against a group of people, like the Belgians, who arent a race? Besides, Farage’s description has some truth in it. Belgium is a shotgun marriage of other peoples convenience of French speaking Walloons in the south and Dutch speaking Flemish in the north, welded together by the European powers in the 1830’s so that ports like Antwerp and the lower Rhine wouldnt fall into French hands. The two groups have so little in common that in 2007 Belgium had no government for over six months as the two communities couldn’t find enough to agree on.

Farage’s attack on van Rompuy’s non existent democratic mandate is also justified. We are Europeans. We now have a President. Not one of us voted for him. We cant get rid of him.

Farage had a strong case on the non democratic lash up that was van Rompuy’s appointment but he spoiled it with his silly remarks about wet rags and bank clerks. The rest was undoubtedly pretty strong stuff but, as Barry Goldwater famously said, “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And…moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue”.

(Printed in London Student, vol 30 issue 11, 15/03/10)

Should ethical investment be a priority for universities?

The government is looking for cuts to control a national debt rising at £5,000 per second. In December it found them when it reduced universities annual funding by £400 million. So it might seem like an odd time to be cutting off funding options.

Nevertheless this is what several ‘Ethical Investment’ groups are trying to do. Instead of simply looking for the best return on investment universities are now being pressured, as Queen Mary’s Ethical Investment Policy says, “to consider the social and environmental policies of companies”. So, for example, arms companies are out. In November, after a lengthy campaign, UCL sold its shares in arms manufacturer Cobham Plc whose share price had risen from 167.2p in June to 233.4p by November. It has since risen to 250.9p. Queen Mary’s has likewise adopted an ethical investment policy.

But this does leave the question of where the money is going to come from.

More government funding is out. Government debt has risen from 29% of GDP in 2002 to 37% in 2007 (when the credit crunch started) to 60% today. It is forecast to rise to nearly 80% in the next couple of years. By 2013 9p in every £1 paid in tax will be spent simply on paying interest on this debt. The taxpayer teat has been milked dry.

So do we ask students to pay more for the education they receive? Its estimated to cost a university, on average, about £10,000 per year to educate an undergraduate but any proposal to raise fees is controversial. The London Student website currently carries a photo of a student wearing a placard reading “No fees please” which is a bit like sitting down to eat in a restaurant wearing a sign saying “No bill please”. A recent proposal from the think tank Policy Exchange to raise tuition fees provoked a furious response from the University and College Union and the National Union of Students.

Of course, universities can always milk foreign students. Between 2000 and 2006 the number of international students in the UK increased by 48%. Fees range from £8,500 to £32,000 per year, a rise of between 1/3 and 1/2 over the last decade.

Of course universities should not be investing in companies engaged in criminal activity. But as the arms trade has been singled out as a target so far it is worth noting that most people are killed not with high tech weapons but with cheap weapons like the machetes which hacked so many to death in Rwanda.

But with the government’s pockets empty and students unwilling to pay more, the coming gap in university funding requires that some serious thought goes into cutting off potential revenue streams.

Ethical investment plans will only jeopardize Higher Education further.

(Printed in London Student, vol 30 issue 10, 01/03/10)

Palin’s Popularity

Sarah Palin is the most divisive figure in American politics. 46% of Americans view her favourably while 46% view her unfavourably. 80% of Republicans have a positive view of her while 70% of Democrats have a negative one. Only 8% don’t care either way.

It is difficult to see where these feelings come from. An October 2007 Newsweek profile of Palin and Janet Napolitano, the Democrat governor of Arizona, said “(G)overnors like Napolitano, 49, and Palin, 43, are making their mark with a pragmatic, postpartisan approach to solving problems, a style that works especially well with the large numbers of independent voters in their respective states”. It continued “In Alaska Palin is challenging the dominant, sometimes corrupting, role of oil companies in the state’s political culture…Although she has been in office less than a year, Palin, too, earns high marks from lawmakers on the other side of the aisle”.

Palin’s popularity stems from the fact that she is like a lot of Americans. Like 76% Americans Palin is a Christian. Like 43% Palin supports the right to bear arms. Like 12.5 million Americans Palin goes hunting. Like 51% Palin opposes same sex marriage. Like 82.5 million American women Palin is a mother. Like 40% of children born in US, Palin’s grandson was born to an unmarried mother.

Palin resonates in other ways. In a recent speech to the TEA (Taxed Enough Already) Party movement she claimed “America is ready for another revolution”. This might sound odd considering Americans voted for ‘change’ in 2008 but they have seen very little of it.

Americans seeking change are now looking elsewhere. In November the Democrat governors of Virginia and New Jersey were ousted by Republicans. January saw a Republican elected to the Senate by solidly Democratic Massachusetts. Obama’s approval rating has slumped from 68% to 49%. A recent poll put Obama on 44% against a hypothetical Republican candidate on 42% in 2012. At 11%, just three percent behind the Republican favourite for the 2012 nomination, Mitt Romney, the Pitbull may yet have a run at the White House.

(Printed in London Student, vol 30 issue 10, 01/03/10)

The recession is over – now the pain starts

On January 26th figures for the last quarter of 2009 were published showing economic growth of 0.1%. The recession is over. Technically.

Yet the outlook is grim. British government debt is above 12% of GDP, about the same as Greece who’s debt is causing chaos on financial markets. Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling anxiously say that this borrowing binge has been in the cause of fighting the recession by replacing private spending with government spending. The billions paid out to banks were, we are told, necessary to prop up the banking system.

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